The sitting president of the Richmond City Council faces a challenge from a community organizer in the 7th District City Council race.
On the ballot are Council President Cynthia I. Newbille, who has represented the East End district on the council since 2009, and community organizer Joseph Rogers.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch asked each candidate to answer five questions in 600 words or fewer in this seventh installment of weekly questionnaires with council and School Board hopefuls. Their responses to the questionnaire are below in alphabetical order by last name, along with biographical information.
Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.
QUESTION: What is the most important issue facing residents of the 7th District, and what do you plan to do about it if elected?
Newbille: The most pressing issue facing residents of the 7th District is the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact communitywide on health, housing and evictions, unemployment, Richmond Public Schools and businesses.
Once re-elected, I will work even more diligently to mitigate the impact of the pandemic by partnering to continue to provide, increase and expand local, state, federal and philanthropic resources for residents, schools and businesses as follows: personal protective equipment distribution and testing citywide; eviction diversion and mortgage and rental assistance; isolation housing; family financial assistance; homelessness program funding; business assistance in the form of grants, loans and PPE; job assistance and placement; non-disconnection of utility services; tax relief for seniors and people with disabilities; child care; support for Richmond Public Schools.
Rogers: Like most districts in the city, the 7th District is not a monolith.
Neighborhoods outside of the central Church and Union Hill areas suffer from chronic under-investment and lack of infrastructure. Areas like Fulton need transit access both inside the city and to the eastern part of the county.
Residents of densely populated areas like Shockoe Bottom are often overlooked as transient newcomers who are uninterested in investing in the future of the city. Creighton Court residents, in addition to wanting secure housing, also want their children to be able to take advantage of after-school programs without having to deal with the recent barriers surrounding cost.
Many neighborhoods are grappling with gentrification and the lost of long-term residents to unsustainable increases in cost of living. All of these problems are important, and all of them deserve specific focus. As the councilperson for the 7th District, I will regularly hold meetings in neighborhoods across the district, meeting people where they are, hearing their issues, and providing regular updates on the addressing of these issues.
QUESTION: Do you support raising the city’s real estate tax rate to fund improvements to Richmond Public Schools? Why or why not?
Newbille: I have and will continue to advocate for the full funding of RPS from local, state, federal, corporate and philanthropic sources. While I do not support raising real estate taxes, I supported the City Council’s full funding of RPS; council legislation to earmark 55.4% of the city’s annual real estate taxes for education; and the establishment of an additional 1.5% meals tax to be utilized for school renovation and replacement.
Rogers: Before we raise real estate taxes on residents, we must pursue progressive taxation first. In particular, and in the face of projected shortfalls due to COVID-19, we must demand from the state the ability to increase the tax rate on those corporations in our city that have not sustained the kind of losses that individuals have.
QUESTION: Do you support the use of tax dollars to build a new downtown arena? Why or why not?
Newbille: Yes, contingent upon robust community engagement/input, and if — and only if — the long-term revenue projection exceeds the city’s investment.
Rogers: Not unless the process includes the community from the very beginning instead of a top-down corporate exercise. From baseball stadiums to coliseum projects, the community has continually rejected top-down redevelopment proposals. If a new project is to be undertaken, it should be rooted in community interests. A model for this can be found in the community proposed 9-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park, initially developed in 2015 and currently supported by every candidate for mayor.
Question: If elected, what legislation or policies will you propose to promote racial equity?
Newbille: On Feb. 10, I jointly patroned legislation (Resolution # 2020-R013) to provide funding for a third-party equity analysis to measure equity in the city and further provide for equity training for city employees, appointed and elected officials for the purpose of eliminating inequities through improved city policies in all areas. I will work collaboratively with residents, City Council, the administration, RPS and community partners to develop an equity agenda for the city that promotes social and racial justice.
Rogers: When the majority of encounters with law enforcement are with Black, brown and Indigenous people, police accountability is a racial equity issue. I have supported the Marcus Alert and an elected Civilian Review Board with subpoena power since 2018. I continue to support those issues today. I further believe that piling more responsibilities on police departments has overtaxed officers and more importantly failed to provide long-term structure for our communities by separating families and criminalizing behavior instead of providing supporting assistance. Because of that, I support the investment in community resources that will help uplift all of us and the divestment from the department of anything outside of solving crimes.
QUESTION: Do you believe Mayor Levar Stoney deserves a second term? Why or why not?
Newbille: Yes. The mayor’s record of accomplishments and advocacy on behalf of all Richmonders speak for him. However, ultimately this decision rests with the voters.
Rogers: I support the vision for the city that has been put forward by Alexsis Rodgers (no relation). Although it seems that Mayor Stoney is coming around to many of these ideas and is in fact adopting them for his campaign (see her transit plan), I would rather support the person who first put these ideas in the race, rather than election cycle late adopters.